Saturday, June 10, 2006

Steam Brigade Review

Steam Brigade, developed and published by Pedestrian Entertainment.
The Good: Unique setting and graphical design, novel gameplay
The Not So Good: Very difficult (even on easy), some issues with the 2-D levels
What say you? A good idea that’s almost too challenging to be fun: 5/8

Strategy games have had a long and storied tradition on the PC. With the advent of new technology and more powerful computers and video cards, the real time strategy game has blossomed into a full 3-D exercise in killing stuff, strategically. The side scrolling 2-D game has mostly been reserved for arcade shooters, but what if it was adapted to a strategy game? Steam Brigade is a 2-D strategy game, but the novelty with this title is that the action is seen from the side, instead of from the top or an isometric perspective. Not only does this make the game easier to program, but it’s also fairly unique in a time littered with countless 3-D strategy titles. Will Steam Brigade’s originality be enough to carry this title above the rest?

Steam Brigade brings back the days of detailed 2-D environments that have a distinctive graphical style. A lot of games these days may have realistic units in a realistic setting, but this doesn’t exactly make them memorable. All of the graphics in Steam Brigade are hand drawn, giving them an appeal that’s not replicated in other titles. The graphics may be low resolution, but they look pretty good, from the detailed factories to the various dirigibles flying about the map. The soldiers that you will use are the least detailed of anything in the game, but this is mainly due to their small scale. Despite the memorable nature of the graphics, the sound is quite forgettable, an average collection of appropriate effects and generic background music. Still, the graphics of Steam Brigade are uniquely Steam Brigade, and that distinguishing nature is missing from a lot of top-tier strategy titles.

The goal of Steam Brigade is to deliver an engineer to the enemy factory in order to disable it. This seems like a simple concept, but it’s made more difficult by the various ships in the game and the 2-D levels. Your main method of moving units is your airship, which can be moved anywhere around the map by simply clicking at a destination or using the arrow keys (clicking is easier). The airship has a magnet that can pick up and drop friendly and enemy units; picking up enemy units and then dropping them from height is a favorite tactic of the AI. There are a number of different units that you can employ around the map to successfully detonate the enemy factory. The defenseless engineers can destroy the enemy headquarters and also occupy ground and air turrets. Infantry units can shoot at engineers and occupy bunkers, which prevent enemy vehicles from passing. Vehicles include tanks, flak guns (ground anti-air), autogyros (air anti-air), and balloon bombs that drop their payload when an enemy units passes underneath. Money used to purchase these weapons comes from a continual flow. You will also need to refuel your airship at your factory occasionally with fresh supplies of water. The game mechanics are definitely original, but prove to be very difficult to play. Because the title is so unique, using strategies from other games proves to be ineffective, and getting a handle on which units to use and how to use them makes for a steep initial learning curve. Because of the 2-D nature of the levels, there isn’t much room to operate, and the opposing airships continually run into each other, sometimes hooking their magnets together like a Chinese finger trap of death. Steam Brigade features a useful tutorial, a campaign mode, and skirmish games against the AI. Multiplayer is planned as a later addition.

Ultimately, Steam Brigade is a good idea that’s very frustrating and difficult to play. I suppose that once you get used to the controls the game would become quite fun, but I suspect a lot of people may get turned off by the initial difficulty. Steam Brigade is certainly a unique game, and I applaud the developers for an original concept and design, from the gameplay to the graphics. Nevertheless, there must be an easier way to play the game. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve found Steam Brigade to be an original title that lacks simplicity in the gameplay department.